NEW DELHI (AP) – India’s main opposition party voted Monday to elect a new president, with members of the dominant Nehru-Gandhi dynasty out of the race.
Sonia Gandhi, the interim party chairman, was one of nearly 9,000 party deputies entitled to vote on the issue.
“I’ve waited a long time for this,” she said after the vote in the party’s New Delhi office.
Although the party was historically led by the family, Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi, decided to bring in a new face after suffering crushing defeats in state and state elections since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party took power in 2014.
Eighty-year-old Mallikarjun Kharge from southern Karnataka state appears to be the frontrunner, with the party’s top leaders supporting him in the pre-vote campaign. He has been described by Indian media as the ‘official candidate’. His main challenger is Shashi Tharoor, 66, who spent nearly 30 years at the United Nations before joining the Indian National Congress in 2009.
“I believe the Congress revival has begun,” Tharoor said after casting his vote.
However, Tharoor complained to the party’s electoral authority that he was being denied a level playing field as some senior party leaders, including Ashok Gehlot and Siddaramaiah, appealed to party deputies to urge them to vote for Kharge.
Madhusudan Mistry, who heads the party’s election council, has yet to announce his decision on Tharoor’s complaint.
The election to the top party post is a big step towards ending the party’s struggles to find a new leader afterwards dismal results in the 2019 national elections and the subsequent resignation of Rahul Gandhi as party chairman.
Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi said last month that none of the Gandhi family will be in the race this time. The vote count and result are scheduled for Wednesday.
Modi has denounced Congress’ dynastic policies.
The party has been led by non-relatives in the past, but Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi have been at the helm of party affairs since 1998.
The family has produced three of India’s 15 prime ministers since independence, starting with his great-grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru, who was the country’s first. Two of them – his grandmother, Indira Gandhi, and father, Rajiv Gandhi – were murdered. The party ruled India for more than 60 years after India gained independence from British colonialists in 1947.
Rahul Gandhi will spend the next four months walking 3,500 kilometers through Indian towns and villages as he attempts to rejuvenate the party and gain popular support ahead of key parliamentary elections in the state of Himachal Pradesh and Modi’s home state of Gujarat. The results are likely to influence the country’s next national elections, which will take place in 2024.
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